Ask Jeff

Hi Jeff. I went to America to attend a particular college, but they didn’t teach music there. When I mentioned that you advised learning music only, they told me that you can learn from anything, and that you are a narrow-minded musician. How do I reconcile your comments with theirs?

Nigel, via email

Hi Nigel. They were right when they told you that I am narrow-minded, but not as a musician. There is room in the world for all kinds of music, but I am a narrow-minded teacher because there aren’t a lot of ways to improve. Ask yourself – if you can learn from anything, then why do so many players still have trouble playing?

Music education falls short if music isn’t the centre of those lessons. For example, technique lessons are popular, but will not help you to play better because practically no one reading this has a problem with technique: they have musical ones, which is reflected in their inability to play.

Jeff BerlinMusic will solve this problem inside of six months. Lessons in groove or playing in time are also false teaching principles because, again, you don’t have a problem with groove or time. Only players that do not know how to play have groove or time difficulties. Music is the only thing that can fix this for you – and music is exactly the thing that many people reading this right now aren’t interested in learning. It is a real conundrum to put yourself in.

America is not the land of musical educational opportunity that some people may believe. You have to look hard to find really good musical educational sources. America also functions under some of the more – how shall I say it – suspicious methods that have influenced the world of learning, England as well. Teachers and schools mean well, but you, Nigel, are the victim of the Yankee Curse. You believed that this institution was going to help you to play better, but all you got for your trip were good memories and a watered-down approach to bass improvement.

If you want to improve, then find a teacher that teaches jazz: not for the career value of it, but for the musical content it contains. If you cannot read music, then your teacher should offer you simple reading material. If you don’t know how to play well, then your teacher should offer you simple, harmoni- cally perfect material.

Here is an analogy that might make sense regarding this. If you meet a friend and he invites you to his house for dinner, he will give you specific directions that will bring you directly to his door. He will not give you a philosophy lesson in how to walk, or the speed that you should be traveling at, or the way to manage your car in traffic, or how to walk around people in the tube station. None of these things will get you to his house. Now associate this story with playing. If you want to get from where you are as a player to where you wish to be as a player, neither the philosophy and spiritual thought of music, a perfect view of time, thoughts about dynamics or groove, nor suggestion after suggestion from a million sources about how to play, will get you where you wish to go. Not unless music is used, as your legs are used for walking or your car is used for driving.

Think about it, and thanks for writing.

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